Saturday, January 16, 2010

Top Navy Doc Predicts Long USNS Comfort Deployment

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

BALTIMORE, Jan. 16, 2010 - The chief of Navy medicine told the crew of the USNS Comfort here yesterday to prepare for a long deployment to Haiti.

Navy Vice Adm. (Dr.) Adam M. Robinson Jr. visited the crew of the Comfort as they prepared to leave Baltimore harbor this morning to sail to Haiti. He said the need is great in Haiti following the magnitude 7 earthquake that leveled the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince on Jan. 12.

"This is not a training mission," Robinson said. "I suspect that we will have medical and naval assets in Haiti [for] six months minimum, and I think longer than that."

The medical staff aboard the Comfort mostly is from the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., and Portsmouth Naval Hospital in Virginia. Other specialists from many other Navy hospitals and clinics in the United States are aboard the hospital ship.

Red Cross officials estimate that 40,000 to 50,000 people were killed in the earthquake. Countless thousands more are injured, and the Comfort is one platform that can deliver world-class medical care for those people, Robinson said.

"You are going to get first-hand experience in a very intense and a very critical situation in Haiti," the admiral said.

Robinson, who led a medical hospital detachment in Haiti in 1999, said the deployment to Haiti will be "a life-defining assignment" for the Comfort crew. On the best days, he said, Haiti is a poor country. It is, in fact, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, and it suffers from poverty, deforestation and political uncertainty. Of the 5 million to 6 million people who live in Haiti, roughly 2 million live in and around Port-au-Prince. Before the earthquake struck, Haiti had recently been hit by hurricanes and floods.

The quake destroyed whatever infrastructure existed, Robinson said, and the country's need is greater today by an order of magnitude.

Still, Robinson said, the medics need to pace themselves, and he asked the crew and medical staff to watch out for one another. "Make sure you have each others' backs," he said. Make sure you are there for one another when you need each other." This, he said, will be very important when they have been deployed for months.

The scenes in Haiti will be terrible, Robinson warned the crew.

"You will see devastation and injuries and death and destruction that you've never seen before," he said. "If you feel overwhelmed and feel the need to talk, ... please – my medical children – don't hesitate to do that. There is no shame in raising your hand and taking a timeout. There is no shame in asking for help."

The admiral said he is incredibly proud of the professionals who came together on short notice to make the deployment happen. Medicine, he added, is a common language that all people understand, and it is a way to bridge differences.

"Be safe, be smart and take care of one another," Robinson said. "If you do that, this is going to be a very successful mission."

Biographies: Navy Vice Adm. (Dr.) Adam M. Robinson Jr.

Related Sites: USNS Comfort and Special Report: Haiti Earthquake Relief

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